Hey, du bist ein cooler Typ…

Working in an initial reception centre in Rheinland-Pfalz.
By Barbara Frazier, Kusel, February, 13th 2016.

There are fifteen children in my group, the youngest of which are barely six years old, the eldest between 13 and 15. Everything is very improvised around here; we’re teaching German lessons in party tents that do not close properly against the draught – in the winter months, we’ve regularly got temperatures below zero. Even the fan heaters are of little help, they roast the children directly in front of them and do not reach the rest. So we decided to include movement games and theatre exercises into our lessons in order to literally heat them up. In order to do so, we frequently use the lawn in front of the tents.

The children speak Arabic, Farsi and Albanian; we do not share a common language, apart from the few scraps of German we taught them in the last weeks. We communicate with hands, feet, gestures and drawings I have prepared – and of course by imitation. We start with an impulse circle consisting of “Hepp” (going right or left), “Paff” (passing through the centre of the circle) and “Boing” (blocking and reversing the impulse). The aim is to take up the impulse and pass it on, the focus is on volume, snappiness and precision. The older children remain a bit reluctant at first, but this wears off quickly – sometimes the younger ones are being patronised by the older ones, but all in all we have some well working rounds.

As a next step, I try to reduce fear of contact with the “Shoulder-Shoulder” game. For this, all participants stand close to each other and in turn touch their neighbours’ right and left shoulders, hips and knees with their opposite hands, speaking the names of the body parts. (This may be a bit cryptic, so once more: 1) I touch my left neighbour’s right shoulder with my right hand, saying “shoulder”, 2) I touch my right neighbour’s left shoulder with my left hand, saying “shoulder”, 3) I touch my left neighbour’s right hip with my right hand, saying “hip”, 4) I touch my right neighbour’s left hip with my left hand, saying “hip”, 5) I touch my left neighbour’s right knee with my right hand saying “knee”, 6) I touch my right neighbour’s left knee with my left hand, saying “knee” – Got it?) “Like one body, one voice”, I explain and show them that this is not about hurting the other with a strong blow or being first finished, but to become one unit, one sort of machine as a group. Start as one, end as one and do really touch the other, yeeees, even if there’s a girl standing next to a boy. We have some difficulties with those children who can’t distinguish left and right; this, however, is a problem I’ve come across in German primary schools, too.

Next we play the “Monuments” game – the children’s favourite, and mine, too. I have drawn certain concepts on A3 sheets of paper: Circle, Rectangle, Triangle, Car, Ship, Sun, House, Cat, Tree, Wedding. I explain the task using hands and feet; we still need a number of attempts until the fitter kids grasp what this is about and are able to explain it to their friends. I have them walk through the room, then shout a number, e.g. “Three”, upon which they have to form teams of three. I then show them one of the drawings and count down from twenty. In this time the groups have to form a monument of the concept and hold it in freeze. It’s an incredible amount of hectic, stress and little fights going on every time, but also a lot of laughter and finding out that only by cooperating and paying attention to the others, heeding them will produce a good result. A very nice exercise that makes communication on all levels necessary.

I finally have to describe a warm-up game that by now everybody living in the accommodation knows and can join into, because the children never cease to play it. We stand in a circle. One starts, points at a fellow player and shouts “Hey du, du bist ein cooler Typ, drum sing mit mir das Schüttellied! Und hoch, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel! Und runter, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel! Und links, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel! Und rechts, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel, schüttel!” [“Hey you, you are a cool guy, so sing the shaking song with me! And up shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it! And down, shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it! And left shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it! And right shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it!”] With the refrain, everybody joins in and jumps and shake their arms and legs in the respective directions (up, down, left and right). It’s quite an exhilarating feeling for me that by now, people arriving in the accommodation can sing along this song now even before they can pronounce “How are you?” in German. ☺